Zoom and the era of social distancing: how to cook today the musical hits of the future


Sometimes inspiration is born from of games, improvisations and conversations are random, not always of ‘working sessions’ arranged to compose a work. On other occasions, a work session can turn into seals of dispersion.

At times, that confinement is one of the most effective measures to prevent the further spread of the COVID-19, those meetings have changed their format.

While there are those who have decided to continue -or return to – the composition in lonely,

to create one or more songs as a group, the option has been switched to platforms like Facetime, Zoom, or Hangouts.

In January of this year, the hip-hop producer TM88 received an urgent call from the rapper Lil Uzi Vert, who was looking for a rhythm specific to your song “XO Tour Llif3”. The following days worked during hours for video call to improve the theme. “He said ‘Pulls that, do this’. I do so and send it back,” he said TM88 to Rolling Stone. “I tell you what I don’t like about the letter. All the time I was taking care of my daughter,” said the producer.

The result was the “P2”, the last song on the album Eternal Atake Lil Uzi. While the composition at a distance is not something new, it ceased to be an option that depends on the preferences of each artist. The contingency been called to create in solo or by video call, which is not very effective for all composers.

“There is No way to replicate the human connection in a room,” said composer Dan Henig -who works with Monsta X and Chelsea Cutler – “But even with lag and poor audio quality, you can find the connection and base in common. It is not the same, but it is what we have,” he told Rolling Stone.

For Jazelle Rodriguez -who works with David Guetta and Cheat Codes-, the platform change is a major problem. “There is a lag on Facetime -you are playing the beat, moving their heads, but it is completely out of phase”, aspect with which accords PJ Harding -composer, Noah Cyrus and Chromeo- “Writing songs is more about listening and reacting in real-time. If you have a second of lag, you kill the vibe, a decisive factor”.

Neil Ormandy, composer and co-owner of SILO: Music -who created the music for various tv series and movie trailers as CSI, Arrow, Gotham, Silicon Valley, Avengers and Star Wars- he explains that the Hangout is the most efficient, “but it’s still a little faulty”.

Joe Kirkland -who works with Dua Lipa and Blackbear – says that the more complex is the popular Zoom. “By changes of microphone [que cambian según el interlocutor que hace ruido]is a difficult to. In a room you can talking over another or interrupting to easily exchange ideas [trabajando remoto] you have to is to wait for each one to speak your part,” he said about the need of marking the ‘shifts’ to express themselves.

“You speak interrupting the other, or someone tries to sing a harmony, but as it is not in real time sounds great. When we know each other for a long time, it is not uncomfortable,” said Mags Duvall -composer of Big Family-.

However, another constraint is that it restricts the amount of resources to compose a song. “A lot of people are used to having an engineer or a producer -or both – that you know how to record”, says Antonio Dixon -collaborator of pop stars like Beyonce and Ariana Grande. For example, to add the harmonies in the background, or test out various effects, it is not so easy to do with a amount limited of participants.

For more than a decade, referring to the hip-hop use applications such as Voice Memo App to record their improvisations and first ideas -lyrics or melody – and then send them via the web and go adapting them.

As explained by the artists interviewed by Rolling Stone, this could not only be convenient in practical terms -by the pandemic we are going through-, is also beneficial for the environment, according to PJ Harding.

“Originally I’m from Australia, and the last three or four years I have travelled constantly to Los Angeles, California, perhaps three times a year, and making camps in the composition in Korea and Indonesia,” said Harding. “That is not good for the environment. So I’ve been studying the last few years -How can I remain productive without traveling so much, releasing as much carbon into the atmosphere?-”.

But not all see it with bad eyes. While some work for the first time under these conditions, others regard it as a good change of routine. For example, Poo Bear -producer and composer of Justin Bieber from 2013 -who is currently in the Bahamas – calls the experience of working for FaceTime as “refreshing”. “It makes you pay more attention. I am listening more carefully, making sure not to miss anything,” said Poo Bear.

But the criticism that prevails is rather negative. “Last week I did a session via FaceTime, and it’s fun to catch up, but the process of composing it is difficult. Being in the house sometimes there are children… totally different to when you work in a studio,” said Luke Laird, who writes for Kacey Musgraves and Eric Church.

The confinement has changed the rules of the game. If before with a pencil, paper and guitar, creating beautiful melodies -which still make some – the evolution of the music itself has led to progressively add effects, instruments, arrangements; and, therefore, the participation of more people.

“We used to see between seven and ten composers in a song,” said Cyphert. “Maybe this will cause an explosion of 100% in royalties [para los que compongan solos] or more 50/50 [dos compositores]that is the way it used to be”. If you choose between to meet in person or work for a video call is about, Cyphert gives with a mid-point.

“I know I can do it is great. But it is not what I want to do forever,” he said.

With months ahead in the battle with the pandemic coronavirus, and with the uncertainty regarding the outlook for the future in the entertainment; Dan Henig predicts that the music industry will move towards this mode. “The industry will grow in the direction that the remote sessions, are considered normal”.

“You don’t always have the ideal situation. You only make the song come to light of the way that you can,” concluded Luke Laird.